Boxing movies have always served as great motivators for the men who love them to get in the gym, so much so there have been psychological studies done on the positive affects that Bill Conti’s theme music in Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky has on the brain while training. Whether it’s watching Russell Crowe’s James Braddock training through an injury for his big match in Cinderella Man or Mark Wahlberg’s portrayal of Mickey Ward staying diligent to his work outs despite a troubled home life in The Fighter, these moments have inspired many to push through the next rep our to add the additional mile to our morning jog.
Antoine Fuqua’s intense boxing drama Southpaw is no exception, with leading man Jake Gyllenhaal, as middleweight champ Billy Hope, pushing himself through not one, but two arduous training montages as he prepares for the big fight that could bring his family back together after a horrible tragedy. To prepare for the role, Fuqua, an avid boxer himself, required Gyllenhaal to trainer for the filming of the movie in the same way a pro boxer would train for a career match, setting him up with experienced coach Terry Claybon.
Claybon, who operates lb4Lb Boxing Gym in Los Angeles, has been training Fuqua since he made Training Day more than a decade ago and has trained with some of the greats like Muhammad Ali, which made him the perfect man to get Gyllenhaal in shape for the role. Gyllenhaal had just lost weight for his latest film Nightcrawler and was at a paltry 147 pounds, but by the time Claybon and Fuqua were done with him, he had gained 28 pounds of lean muscle and a love for the sport.
We talked with Claybon and Gyllenhaal about their daily routine, and why you don’t need to carry a weight set around to get in fighting shape.
Gyllenhaal was already a runner before linking up with Claybon, but what was once hobby became religion. He started off at three miles every morning, but by the end was running 8 miles every day before the training really began. “I didn’t feel right if I didn’t get my roadwork in,” admits Gyllenhaal.
They started out the morning training session with 15 minutes of jump rope and while Billy Hope seems to use a jump rope with ease during Southpaw, Claybon says that was just Gyllenhaal’s dedication in practice.
They would then start the boxing drills with Gyllenhaal focusing on his footwork and defensive movement for three rounds, nine minutes, with the traditional quick break between. “Defense was the most important thing for us to practice, because he was really going to get hit and he needed to protect himself,” says Claybon.
They would follow the defense drills with forward-step movements, throwing different punches and learning the professional combinations that would be used in the movie for six rounds, 18 minutes. Though Gyllenhaal admits that at first he felt “stupid” shadowboxing, the results were undeniable.
Traveling from heavy bag or speed bag, for three rounds, nine minutes each, were a constant during the morning and afternoon training sessions. Claybon would wrap Gyllenhaal’s hands before they moved their way to the heavy bag and focused on precision, utilizing the bag strap, teaching the perfect punch. They also made stops at the double-end bag, working more on mixing offensive and defensive motions, and the speed bag.
Conditioning & Strength
Claybon wanted to keep the workouts based in making Gyllenhaal more comfortable with his own body, so reps were taken over the use of any weights and only a few machines were used. They started off with 500 sit-ups a day, slowly increasing the amount until they were clocking in about 2,000. For additional upper body training there were 100 pull-ups, dips, and push-ups. In addition, many boxing gyms consider the medicine ball an invaluable resource and Claybon is no exception, incorporating spinning drills to increase punching speed.
The two favorite tools utilized at Fuqua’s production-office-turned-gym were a sledgehammer and a 250-lb tractor tire, which Gyllenhaal had the pleasure of lifting up and flipping over around 20 times a day, a move that is captured in the film. When he wasn’t flipping it, he was pounding it with the sledgehammer in 3-minute sessions.
Gyllenhaal laughs off the thought of a restricted diet. “We trained really hard every day, all day, and you can eat a lot when you’re in that mode.” When pushed to remember a particular meal, “It was always high protein. I remember eating a lot of Chipotle.”
Southpaw is now playing in theaters.